Pickleball beats the heat as fast-growing racquet sport

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First State Pickleball Club members, from left: Steve Russ, Nancy Colella, Sherry King, John Guilday, Elaine Herbert, and Pat Guilday gather prior to an evening of pick-up games. (Special to the Sussex County Post/Ben Heck).

FRANKFORD — It’s never too hot outside for pickleball.

At least that’s how First State Pickleball Club member Nancy “Pickleball Nan” Colella feels when it comes to the fast-growing racquet sport.

Mid-August 90-degree weather isn’t enough to keep “Pickleball Nan” and a small group of club members away from the John M. Clayton Elementary School pickleball courts for a handful of pick-up games on a casual Wednesday evening.

Pickleball, considered by the USA Pickleball Association to be one of the fastest-growing sports in America, combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis.

The sport is played on converted tennis courts, using paddles similar to those used in table tennis and, much like badminton, the serving is done underhand. It’s typically played with four players, making up two teams of two, but can also be played with just two or three players.

Though the sport was invented more than 50 years ago and was first played in Washington state by Joel Pritchard and two of his friends in 1965, it was Butch and Cheryl Martin who brought the sport up north to the state of Delaware. Butch served as the First State Pickleball Club’s founding president, while Cheryl served as its secretary.

This time last year, the club stood at just over 200 members. The club has continued to grow in membership over the last 12 months, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

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Elaine Herbert, left, and Nancy Colella warm up prior to a doubles pick-up game at the John M. Clayton Elementary School courts. (Special to the Sussex County Post/Ben Heck).

Although the Martins are now traveling the Midwest together in an RV while participating in pickleball tournaments across the country, current club president Pat Powell is working hard to keep the club going strong.

The club’s board members and players volunteer to help conduct pick-up games, play tournaments and put on clinics all over the county, recruiting new members both young and old in the process.

Colella has been playing the sport off and on for about a year now, and not only loves playing the game but also enjoys the connections she has made with other people while playing.

“I read an article about it, so I came in and started asking questions,” Colella said. “I took three lessons with Cheryl Martin, and have been playing ever since.”

“The greatest thing about pickleball is playing the game, the second thing is the wonderful people you meet,” Colella said.

While pickleball is a sport played by men and women of all ages, it is especially enjoying popularity within the senior community in the state of Delaware.

Elaine Herbert is 74 years old and just started playing the sport on July 27, yet she already feels that she has gotten a lot out of her weeks-long experience with the club. Playing almost every day of the week, whether it is in the morning or in the evening, has allowed the avid tennis player the opportunity to get acclimated with the style of play that pickleball involves.

“It’s lots of fun, the people are all great. Tennis is my favorite sport, but it is very quiet compared to pickleball,” she said. “I call this ‘gibble and gab,’ because we just laugh at each other and at ourselves There are very few serious moments out here.”

“All the places I go, I look for tennis games and I can never find them. There’s just pickleball everywhere. Every park, every school. So when I travel, I can start playing pickleball now. So that’s why I took it up,” Herbert said.

She’s set to enter her first tournament, The Rookie Challenge, on Aug. 26 at the club’s home courts of John M Clayton Elementary School. The event is a beginners’ tournament geared towards providing new players the opportunity to get some competitive experience.

“The tournament is not really as much about winning as it is about just getting the experience in,” she said. “My goal is to have a good time, and meet some new people.”

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Both Colella and Herbert seem to share similar mind-sets regarding the sport and what it’s all about: staying active and meeting new people.

“With me, I have never lost a game. The things I get out of it: I lose pounds, and I make a lot of friends,” Colella said. “I can’t remember the score of my first game; it’s about the spirit of it. You just practice and you always want to play your best game.”

For more information regarding the club and its events, or to find out how to become a member of the First State Pickleball Club, visit delawarepickleball.com.

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